OK, I confess. I took a little staycation recently. Some of you noticed and asked what’s going on … so here’s the scoop. For the weekend of October 19, I had a corner suite reserved … a room with a view at the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) of Washington Adventist Hospital (WAH).
Let’s get the messy details out of the way first, so I can get on with my “sauce on the side” storytelling. The deets: I’ve had a cough for quite some time and it had to be dealt with … now. Fast forward through my MD referrals and I find myself in the care of an eminent pulmonologist Alfred Munzer (and former president of the American Lung Association), a leading thoracic surgeon Marc Margolis and soon to be my new best friend Steven Nathan (he’s the guy that’s going to make me well with a treatment program). All of this means that I was in WAH from October 19 – 21 where I had a lung biopsy performed by Dr. Margolis with the WAH team.
I had never had any form of surgery before … never ever.
My experience at WAH was one successful episode after another. And by the time I was discharged I had cataloged in my head the parallels of service between restaurants, hospitals, and hotels. After all these years in the food world, it’s the way my head is wired now. Each step at WAH was clearly defined, explained and executed from the pre-op blood work and interview the day before, to the pre-op nurse Hazel the morning of surgery to the operating nurse Essie (who stepped out and called my wife one hour into surgery to let her know things were going well and is a leader of a wine divas group of friends) to Ruth my post-anesthesia care unit (PACU) nurse who was the first person I saw when I awoke from surgery. I will never forget her smiling face and her words telling that all had gone well. How do I know/remember their names? Ruth gave me a thank you card signed by them all as I was getting ready to leave PACU to go to my room with a view in ICU.
Many of you have commented to me how you like the Bob Brown insider columns on service. Well, his principles apply here … you develop your service strategy, you hire good folks who are comfortable with the public, you train them and you give them the freedom to bring their personality to the job. Then they execute the plan with great skill and verve. And thanking your guest at the end is a bonus that can reap big rewards down the road.
I have a notebook in which I record the events of my medical experience. A special friend had suggested I keep it – a kind of diary that records every appointment … each day in the hospital … each insurance document … each medicine … you know – everything. You are constantly asked for this information as you travel along this journey and the brain gets frazzled with all these details. My notebook has it all.
By 1 p.m. on the 19th, I am in my room 1504 and now I am totally dependent on others for everything. I can drink water and feed myself, hit the button for assistance and change the channel on the television. That’s it. Nursing shifts are 12 hours and either begin or end at 7 p.m. or 7 a.m. Each shift a nurse comes on who is assigned to you – to make sure you are progressing as you should. Susan is my first nurse. I know all their names … the nurses who kept me on a solid recovery path in timeline order after Susan: Alena, Anastasia, Jeanette, Jackie, Jeanette (again) and Doreen.
Like a server, each had their own style and way of dealing with the guest, I mean patient. Each was a professional of the highest degree … an angel in my mind. Alena and I talked restaurants and I know she and her husband like to go out and explore the area’s restaurants. Even better she treated me to a fresh, morning coffee from their staff-stash … a serious improvement over the patient breakfast java. At some point the word spread about my food writing career and I was suggesting restaurants from DC to Baltimore to Silver Spring to the ICU staffers checking in on me. I gave them my email address for future reference. Hey, why not. They were keeping me comfortable and … alive.
Empty Tables in a Dining Room
You know how some times, you have empty tables but you don’t seat them because you don’t have the servers to take proper care of them. That happened at WAH … in 36 hours I had recovered enough that I could have been moved into the main hospital population. But from what I overheard there either weren’t beds available or not enough nurses to take care of the patients. I stayed where I was in ICU. The same thing happened the next night and once again I stayed in ICU. As I was getting better (and more aware of my surroundings) I clearly realized the magnitude of the care given in ICU … highly professional, superbly trained and caring. I couldn’t have been in a better place.
From housekeeping to the 4 a.m. blood work technicians to the portable x-ray guy to the other staffers who cheered me on as I made my walks around the unit for my daily exercise with my nurse and many monitoring attachments … I didn’t meet a single grumpy person or face a single frown or one heavy sigh.
I understand the rigors of service in foodservice and retail and how the constant contact with a demanding public can test us all. Those of us that love to succeed and thrive on the energy of pleasing … survive. But I will never forget these same principles I found at WAH, but there the service equation also has critical (read life and death) patient care at the forefront.
I’ve never been treated so well in a room with a view, yet I was so happy to leave. I was more than ready to leave my empty bed for the next person to be cared for by the Washington Adventist Hospital team. I was well enough to go home … thank you!
One More Thing
I was so happy to be home I did make a few strategic mistakes. One, I thought I would use cooking as a therapy and one more way to be active during my recovery. I couldn't be sedentary ... pneumonia was a real threat if I chose to only stay in bed. On the first day, I walked one-half mile and increased that by a quarter mile each day until I finally reached two miles. That was a good thing (and now I am up to 45 minutes and will reach 3 miles tomorrow). What didn't work out so well was the standing in a kitchen ... cooking. Oh, I tweeted I was going to make chicken soup but I was really too tired to tackle it. But I got a quick response back from writer peer and friend David Hagedorn who said he was sending some over. The next morning was October 24 ... the day of the monumental chef event he conceived and organized for the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) fundraiser: Chefs for Equality (and YES Issue 6 did pass in Maryland!). I don't think DC has seen a finer collection of culinary talent in one place ... ever. He lets me know that Wednesday morning that he is on his way to the Ritz-Carlton Washington, but as soon as he was dropped off, his partner Michael would be on his way to Bowie with the freshly made smoked chicken soup. Indeed the delivery was made (I sent Michael back with some of my oatmeal raisin cookies) and the four containers kept me nurtured over the next few days with great fresh ingredients and the love that went into sending it my way. I will never forget the gesture ... it's a great world to live in when you have good friends.